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The challenges of the Missouri basketball job

Despite so many things that make the Missouri job a good one, there are still a lot of challenges ANY Mizzou head coach will face.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I did what I could to write a pretty convincing argument for why the Missouri job is a good one. Now comes Part Two, which is less myopic but hopefully rooted in reality. We’ll talk about the challenges any basketball coach at Missouri will face and what can and cannot be overcome.

The Missouri job is a good one, but there are a lot of good jobs in college basketball, and most of the time the difference between a great job and just a decent job is hiring success. Great jobs have a history of great coaching or hiring the right person at the right time. Good jobs have typically had a mixed bag of hires. Bad jobs have usually just hired poorly.

Quick ... name the best coach in Rutgers history. Now name Arizona, or UCLA, or North Carolina’s best coach. How about Kansas? Can you name the best coach in Missouri’s history?

The Limits of History

1987-88 Norm

Norm Stewart is an iconic figure in coaching. His name adorns the court at Mizzou Arena. Norm is basically responsible for Missouri basketball being what it is. When you ask about the best coach in Missouri history, the answer is always Norm.

Yet, despite all of his success, he never broke through and made a Final Four. Mike Anderson fielded one of the greatest teams in school history, and it fell short in the Elite Eight. Frank Haith escorted a talented and experienced team through a fantastic season and got ousted from the NCAAs as a 2-seed in the first round. No coach has fully broken through despite so many successful seasons.

Maybe it’s because of these failures that Missouri fans have grown more skeptical than others when it comes to discussing their program. There are just six programs with at least 20 appearances in the NCAA tournament and no Final Four. Ironically, half of those teams reside in the SEC (Missouri, Alabama, and Tennessee). The others are Xavier, BYU and Utah State.

Convincing Missouri fans to buy in isn’t easy. Historically, they haven’t shown up much early in a season but will pack the arena when things are going well and the opponents are good. That’s like most places. Missouri isn’t alone with this problem, and college basketball attendance is dwindling nationwide, but there has to be a recalibration of excitement in the program in a bad way.

Regional recruiting: The other side of the coin

When you are not a blue blood, it’s hard to recruit like a blue blood. Missouri rarely got its pick of the litter when it came to the great players to come through the state or region.

Of the 55 players born in Missouri to have played in an NBA game, only five of them played for Mizzou; 56 players completed high school in Missouri, and nine of them played at Mizzou.

Now, not all of those are in the last decade or so, and I’m not sure how much I can blame Sparky Stalcup for not landing Jim Krebs or Dick Rosenthal. But missing on specific guys at specific times has left the program behind in recent years.

The biggest challenge may be finding a way to unlock the mystery of St. Louis.

Norm Stewart had a notable feud with certain personalities in the St. Louis area, which prevented him from landing many of the city’s star players. Quin Snyder made an effort to recruit St. Louis and had brief success. Mike Anderson and Frank Haith largely ignored the area, and Kim Anderson hasn’t found much success either.

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns
David Lee
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
San Antonio Spurs v Sacramento Kings
Ben McLemore
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

St. Louis and Kansas City routinely produce talent good enough to win a lot of games, but both are cities on the border of the state with regional influence but no clear draw directly to the university in the middle.

As your geography class probably told you, Missouri is bordered by more states than any in the country — eight in all, with schools threatening to lift the talent away. You certainly don’t have to “seal” your borders to win, but getting talented guys from nearby helps.

The “Power” Conference

There are currently six power conferences in college basketball. Missouri is in arguably the worst of the six, so you have to do a lot more work right now in the non-conference slate to be considered for an NCAA bid or high seed. Traditionally, there aren’t many of those schools who would be considered regular power programs other than Kentucky.

If you want to be positive, here are the average expenses and revenues of each of the six major conferences from the 2014 fiscal year:

  • ACC: $9,009,752 expenses, $15,077,783 revenue
  • Big Ten: $7,696,555 expenses; $14,908,843 revenue
  • SEC: $8,091,636 expenses; $11,572,258 revenue
  • Big 12: $8,389,699 expenses; $10,699,034 revenue
  • Big East: $7,791,015 expenses; $9,296,659 revenue
  • Pac-12: $6,506,216 expenses; $8,693,599 revenue

The SEC is third in both revenue and spending.

Missouri’s numbers for that year, by the way were about $5.7 million in spending and $11.6 million in revenue. For the first time in a while, Missouri is going to have to spend money to attract a coach.

Why this is important is because if jobs open up, it’s possible those jobs are more attractive simply for the fact they’re in better leagues. The SEC can afford to pay more money, but it’s harder to exist in the SEC as a basketball program than it is the ACC, B1G, Big East or Big 12.

Central Arkansas v Wisconsin
Wisconsin packs the house for a game against Central Arkansas
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Roster

A basketball roster can always be remade in quick fashion. That’s the good news. The bad news is this is a roster that is in need of being remade. How drastic of a remake will depend on a lot of things.

Here’s the most recent scholarship count:

Mizzou Scholarship Count 01-02-17

Jakoby Kemp will be a freshman next year, but we’re making sure he completes his redshirt year before moving him down into the right spot. But with one senior, five juniors, and four sophomores on scholarship for next season, there will have to be some configuring done.

With only two open scholarships and a potential coaching change on the horizon, we are basically looking at a situation where you have to wonder who will be back.

Just like the last few years, I don’t want to speculate on who might transfer, but you have to expect somebody will. It’s the nature of the business these days, and even if Kim Anderson is brought back, there will probably be a transfer or two.

Regardless, upgrades need to happen and happen fast if the faith of Missouri fans is to be restored. There’s some talent on the roster, but not enough to be a competitive team next year. So perhaps you aim for a fifth-year graduate transfer or two. Or maybe Lorenzo Romar gets fired and Michael Porter Jr. is available.

Open the pocket book

I kind of feel like this won’t be a problem based upon multiple conversations I’ve had ... but it must be brought up! In the past, it’s been said, that Missouri was a little tight with the purse strings. This is really only half true, as Mike Alden paid Quin Snyder well, kept upping Mike Anderson’s pay until Anderson bolted for home, and nearly lured Matt Painter away from home with a nice pay raise.

It only feels like Missouri was going cheap because the last two hires went south. You aren’t going to give an inexperienced coach more than he’s worth, but still it will be nice to see a competitive salary being paid to a competitive coach.

Missouri will also need to bump up two key areas in the basketball budget: Recruiting and assistants’ pool of money.

From 2009-2013, Mizzou spent $805,627, the 36th most in the country, on recruiting. That’s less than Wichita State, Utah, Clemson and Kansas State. This doesn’t mean paying players, it means travel. How coaches travel is important — think about the Pinkel-copter as a prime example of the recruiting budget. It’s cheesy, but it works.

Mizzou’s assistant pool can grow as well. Part of paying a top college coach and providing him a hefty recruiting budget is making sure his assistants are well compensated as well. In FY 2014, the Mizzou assistant pool was $849,690. It could easily be bumped up to be on par with the top jobs in the country, which is over $1,000,000.


The challenge of compliance is something Missouri has obviously struggled with in recent years. It feels like there has been one misstep after another, and a lot of it comes down to the guidance of the compliance department. Whether it’s the department isn’t very good at its job, too good at its job, or something else, Missouri basketball has had enough issues with compliance and brushes with NCAA investigations that it would be nice if that stopped for a while.

So whoever is coaching Missouri next season is going to have to get a few things straightened out and begin the work of remaking Missouri basketball into a good program again.